Oct 27 2011

And then what happens?

Published by at 12:18 pm under Washington

Washington Governor Chris Gregoire‘s office described the list of nearly $2 billion in state budget cuts – a response to revenue shortfalls – as “a starting point to the conversation,” ahead of the special legislative session starting a month from now (November 28). It could be highly useful, as a starting point – and if blanks are filled in.

The proposals, dozens of slices ranging in size from six figures to nine, carry all sorts of possible implications. One of those is simply the expenditures averted, and those are listed carefully, item by item. The implications and future costs of those cuts, though, seem to be skimmed over. And therein lies the usefulness of some real discussion. Some cuts could probably be made without much blowback, and a few are accounting shifts (noting for example that putting out wildfires cost less this year than expected). But others – most – are likely to result in real damage to the state and people in it, and there ought to be some accounting of that, and what it means for the future.

Gregoire remarked, “I expect additional feedback from communities and various stakeholder groups that I will certainly consider before I present a more complete budget next month. This list will likely change before then. But not much – our options are limited. We’ve already cut $10 billion from state government over the last three years, which leaves very few options moving forward. I said the work of slashing our budget by another $2 billion would be dreadful, and that’s what it is. Washingtonians are going to get a lot less of what they need.”

The implications of getting “what they need” are a lot different from getting “what they want.” Let’s take a few examples from the scores of cuts.

▪ “Eliminate state funds for domestic violence programs – $9.4 million. Terminates state funds for domestic violence shelters that serve about 16,700 individuals annually. Retains funding for non-shelter services.” You can pay now or pay later on combatting domestic violence – there’s no other option. And when you pay later, it’ll be a lot more. Not to mention the human suffering between here and there.

▪ “Reduce chemical dependency services – $14.5 million. Reduces out-patient and detoxification chemical dependency services for 11,000 low-income clients.” Same comment, maybe more emphatically: Higher costs, more crime, more complex and difficult solutions for problems as they fester and worsen.

▪ “Change eligibility for Children’s Health Insurance Program $145.0 million. Terminates funding for 134,000 categorically needy children, as defined by the Medicaid program, above 150 percent of the federal poverty level, which is $33,525 for a family of four. Families will have the option to purchase full health care coverage at 100 percent of the premium.” More people getting sicker … is additional comment really needed? This is one of the places where still-higher health care costs come from.

▪ “Eliminate Disability Lifeline medical program – $110.0 million. Ends medical services to 21,000 clients enrolled in the Disability Lifeline and ADATSA (Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Treatment Support Act) programs.” And what happens to the alcohol and drug abusers then? Not hard to imagine.

▪ “Reduce shellfish harvest and management – $536,000. Reduces clam and oyster seed planting on public beaches by 30 percent, resulting in a 20 percent reduction in recreational harvest within two to three years. Eliminates two Puget Sound crab and shrimp managers, which will delay openings for winter crab fisheries and lowered catch limits.” An example of how state expenditure cuts stand to directly affect private businesses – although in fact, a great many of these cuts would have business-problematic effects.

There have been some counter views. One from Remy Trupin of the Washington State Budget and Policy Center: “We cannot create jobs and get our economy back on track through deep cuts to education, health care, and social services. This one-sided, lopsided approach will do significant damage to the very things that make our state a good place to live, work, and do business.”

As noted, Gregoire made mention of no revenue options, as a way of stanching some of these cuts. It’s unclear whether more than a handful of legislators will.

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